The unlikeliest of yogis, Teddy Roosevelt said, "comparison is the killer of joy." This couldn't be truer as it relates to getting back into shape postpartum or returning to exercise after a long illness or injury. There is nothing more humbling than finding yourself back at the beginning, but comparing your progress to others is just a waste of time and energy. Setbacks are opportunities for growth and learning if we stay present to them.
In yoga, there is a saying, a philosophy, a way of being that can help us transcend petty jealousies and harmful comparisons. I heard this gem of wisdom many times during my training at the Chopra Center, and it is at the heart of Deepak's best selling classic The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. It goes like this:
Where attention goes, energy flows.
In other words, we have the power to transform things in our bodies, with our practices, and in our lives by placing attention and intention on them. Of course, change may not take place over night and it may not happen exactly the way in which we imagined, but we can move in the direction of something new or more healthy simply by focusing on it. A favorite and comforting quote from the Upanishads (an ancient Vedic text) reminds us that we are already connected with that which we seek.
“You are what your deepest desire is. As is your desire, so is your intention. As is your intention, so is your will. As is your will, so is your deed. As is your deed, so is your destiny.”
It is also important to remember that gratitude is the greatest multiplier of good so, be grateful for what you can do now and use that as a foundation to get stronger. And if all else fails, remind yourself that asana is only part of the equation, and just keep your eyes on your own mat. Everything will be fine.
We all have a tendency to forget just how truly precious life is. We take it all for granted. We complain, we regret, we suffer or worse, we hate. If you’ve ever been pregnant, lived with someone who is pregnant or witnessed an ultrasound in the first developmental months of a fetus, you know that life is miraculous and the fact that we make it into human form at all, despite all of the potential problems and complications is nothing less than a miracle. When I saw my daughter’s tiny, whirling and glowing heart at just eight weeks I became a believer again.
Unlike my sister, pregnancy did not come easily for me. As the oldest child in my family, I followed in my mother’s footsteps and experienced an ectopic pregnancy and then later branched out on my own experiencing a miscarriage. These were heartbreaking and confusing events to say the least, but I surrendered and remained faithful that like my mother, I would go on to have a healthy baby some day (in fact, she had three). My mother had told me once a long time ago that she had had a dream that I was sitting on a couch with two beautiful children and that I was happy. I have held onto that vision.
My mother was told that she would never have children and so she prepared to adopt when she found herself pregnant with me. Her doctor thought that she was crazy when she told him that she thought she was expecting (doctors don’t know everything). If you are reading this and you have experienced similar disappointment, or if you like me are a bit older as you walk down the path towards motherhood, don’t listen to your doctor too much. Listen to your instinct and be your own best advocate. When I made my first appointment with my OBGYN after confirming that I was pregnant, she asked me what I had done to conceive. What fertility method had I followed? She was completely speechless when I told her that the pregnancy was the result of a baby blessing from a living female saint in Southern India. Becoming pregnant via test tube and medical intervention wasn’t for me.
As I near the final stretch of my pregnancy, I am cherishing every moment – even the heartburn, the lack of sleep, the tiredness, the soreness, the inability to properly groom my neither regions and despite all of the craziness in the world. One friend openly laughed at my husband and I when we told her that we were going to have a baby. "How optimistic of you", she said.
Nevertheless, I am exceeding grateful to be granted this precious gift and I am excited about meeting my daughter and holding her for the first time. But here’s the thing - pregnancy requires you to accept the changes in your body and in your life. It requires you to embrace the unknown and cultivate flexibility and patience, self-study and surrender. It is the ultimate yoga practice.
It also helps to remind yourself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel – that pregnancy is a temporary state, a fleeting moment just like all things in life. Eventually, my nose, my waistline and my yoga practice will return to their normal state. And so I bow to my mother, to The Divine Mother and to all mothers and women everywhere. We are the true yogis of the world because as Amma The Hugging Saint has said,
There is much truth in the saying that there is a strong woman behind every successful man. Wherever you see you happy, peaceful individuals; where ever you see children endowed with noble qualities and good disposition; wherever you see men who have immense strength when faced with failure and adverse situation; wherever you see people who possess a great measure of understanding, sympathy, love, and compassion toward the suffering, and who give of themselves to others you will usually find a great mother who has inspired them to become what they are.
by: Jennifer Carter Avgerinos
Kick off your day the right way with a morning yoga session. Not only can yoga help get your body and mind moving, it can also bring you into present moment awareness.
All it takes is waking up just 5 to 10 minutes earlier each morning, a small sacrifice for big benefits. You can use that extra quiet time to set your intentions and focus your mind as you nourish your body with simple and gentle stretches. These extra 10 minutes can help you set a positive tone for the day.
You don’t need any special clothing or equipment needed. The first two stretches can even be done while sitting up in bed.
5 Morning Stretches
While sitting up in bed or standing next to the bed, straighten your arms out in front of you with palms facing each other. Take a deep inhale and then open the arms out to a “T.” Hold the pose for a second and then exhale the arms back to the starting point. Repeat this process 3 to 5 times.
Sitting up in bed or standing next to the bed, extend your arms out in front of you once more. Clasp your hands. Take a deep inhale and then sweep your arms over head, next to your ears. As your arms extend upward, the palms should rotate upward. Exhale and lower your arms back to the starting point and then unclasp your hands. Reverse the clasp so that whichever index finger was on the top is now on the bottom. Repeat 3 to5 times.
Standing, with your feet hip-width apart, place your hands on your hips. Inhale, lifting your chest and tucking your chin, and then exhale folding at the waist and bending forward. Inhale back to the starting position and repeat 3 to 5 times.
Standing with your feet together, inhale the your right arm up next to your ear and then bend to the left, stretching the right side of the body. Exhale and reverse sides. Repeat 3 to 5 times on both sides of the body.
Knee to Chest
Standing, shift your weight into your left leg. As you inhale, bend your right leg, flexing your foot and clasping both hands around the leg just under the knee. Balance and squeeze your knee into the chest. On the exhale, release your leg and reverse sides. Repeat on both sides 3 to 5 times.
by: Jennifer Carter Avgerinos
The popularity of yoga has soared in the past decade. Some 21 million people—double the number from 10 years ago—practice yoga, according to U.S. News & World Report.
What was once an outlier has become mainstream.
“Yoga is a traditional way of easing pain and people are flocking to it,” says Sat Jivan Singh Khalsa, a Kundalini yoga teacher who opened New York City’s third yoga studio in 1971.
Do you think about yoga constantly? Do you dream in asana? Is your vocabulary primarily made up of Sanskrit words? Are all of your Facebook photos selfies of various yoga poses? You might have a yoga habit. Take the following quiz and find out.
Quiz: Do You Have a Yoga Obsession?
If you answered ‘yes’ to five or more of the questions above, you probably have a yoga obsession—which isn’t a bad thing!
Share with us how your obsession has changed your life in positive ways in the comments below.
by: Jennifer Carter Avgerinos
If only our life choices were labeled as clearly as our food. Instead of saying “now gluten free,” it might say something like “karma reducing or now with 50 percent less karma.”
“Karma is the sum of a person’s actions, right or wrong. It’s the residue that’s left behind when we make good or bad life choices. Karma is why yogis strive to make “right actions or right choices” and pay it forward by performing selfless service or seva, also known as karma yoga. Helping others is a great way to store up good karma.
But What’s in it for Me?
The principle behind karma yoga isn’t about what you get out of it. However, there are benefits from the practice. Research shows that acting selflessly and volunteering can boost:
And it can reduce stress levels. Any act big or small that helps to spread compassion, kindness, love, and understanding can be considered a karmic deed.
Where Do I Start?
You don’t need to quit your job or move to an ashram to perform karma yoga. Karmic deeds are available everywhere you look: the local animal shelter, a community project, and repurposing instead of throwing away. The options are limitless. Karma yoga is the union of individual consciousness with collective consciousness. Sometimes that begins with people or animals who are already in our lives.
Here are some ways to integrate karma yoga into your life every day:
In the words of the great living saint Amma: “love and a selfless attitude underlie all truly great deeds. When your heart is filled with love and selflessness, it overflows and expresses itself in all your thoughts, words, and actions.” A life inspired by love and service is possible.
How will you practice karma yoga?
by: Jennifer Carter Avgerinos
As a yoga practitioner, you are part of an ancient tradition that dates back at least 5,000 years and has produced great spiritual and philosophical geniuses who have provided answers to some of life’s biggest questions. Questions such as, “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?” “Where will I go after this?” and “What should I do while I’m here?”
The understanding that yoga is, in fact, a complete science is often taken for granted in a world that focuses mainly on the physical postures and how to master them. If we travel into yoga’s past, perhaps we can remember what this ancient technology was originally designed for—the integration of the mind, body, and soul with the Divine.
Classical yoga connects back to Raja yoga and Patanjali, the teacher of the eightfold path. The foundations of yoga’s philosophy were written down in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in approximately 200 AD. This ancient yet practical text describes the inner workings of the mind and provides a blueprint for controlling its restlessness so as to enjoy lasting peace.
Upon practicing all eight limbs of the path, it becomes evident that no one element is elevated over another in a hierarchical order. Each is part of a holistic focus that together brings completeness to individuals as they find their connectivity to the Divine. Because we are all uniquely individual, a person can emphasize one branch and then move on to another as they round out their understanding. In brief, the eight limbs of yoga are as follows:
1. Yama: Universal morality (societal codes of conduct)
2. Niyama: Personal observances (personal codes of conduct)
3. Asana: Body postures (yoga poses)
4. Pranayama: Breathing exercises and control of Prana (breath)
5. Pratyahara: Control of the senses (Savasana)
6. Dharana: Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness (present-moment awareness)
7. Dhyana: Devotion and meditation on the Divine
8. Samadhi: Union with the Divine
Several hundred years later, Patanjali was followed by another icon of yoga named Adi Shankara. His work elaborated on ideas found in the Upanishads, ancient spiritual texts from India, and his Crest-Jewel of Discrimination became a classic Vedantic text on non-duality or oneness. Shankara elaborated 10 Shlokas, or verses, that describe the omnipresence of spirit, paraphrased as follows:
1. The true self is changeless and persists forever
2. The true self is above castes and creeds
3. The true self is the eternal witness
4. All teachings of various religions and philosophies are shallow in comparison to the true self
5. The true self pervades the whole universe
6. The true self is colorless and formless
7. The true self is the absolute knower
8. The true self is above consciousness
9. The true self pervades everything
10. The true self is neither connected nor separate
Looking Back to Look Forward
In the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” To the ancients, yoga was a complete system and asana was a small yet useful part of the whole. The entire goal of the system was to connect inward to the timeless, limitless nature of the spirit or the ‘true self’. Those ancient yogis didn’t confuse the tools with the goals.
The modern day view of yoga has lost sight of the system. Many people believe that yoga is a set of physical postures only. The whole and part have been reversed and the meaning or goal has been lost. The misunderstanding that yoga and asana are one and the same is the common cultural myth of our times. Looking back may be the way to move forward.
In spite of the immense popularity of postural yoga worldwide, there is an opportunity here to uphold yoga’s original integrity. Still on board? Keep reading.
Let us know if this article was helpful.
For articles on yoga asana click here.
- See more at: http://www.chopra.com/ccl/the-essence-of-yoga-why-asana-is-only-a-small-part-of-the-equation#sthash.QIRqvUMk.dpuf
by: Jennifer Carter Avgerinos
Take a moment and focus on your breath. What do you notice?
Focusing on your breath allows you to gauge where you are in the present moment. It can help you determine if you’re in balance.
We unconsciously hold our breath many times each day. It’s typically the first action that we take when we don’t want to lose control of a situation. This is a normal reflex; we reduce our breathing to a survival level when we’re tense and trying to just “get through it.” We take in just enough oxygen to stay alive. Vigorous exercise may be the only time when we truly and deeply breathe.
We should be doing the exact opposite. Studies have shown that yoga and pranayama can help to reduce stress, relieve tension in the body, help improve the immune system, and support better sleep. Yoga poses and breathing techniques, including belly and rhythmic breathing as well as the child’s pose, will help you relax and reduce stress. These exercises are simple, don’t take much time, require no equipment, and can be done anywhere. Try each and see how they affect your stress and anxiety levels. Try the following yoga poses and breaths for managing stress.
This is a core breath that is used at the beginning of most yoga classes. It can bring awareness into the body and calm the mind.
When you think about the belly or abdomen expanding, think about a balloon as it expands. The breath should be deep and elongated. Use this breath when you want to relax or let go of your thoughts.
This is a more energizing breath. Use this if you’re feeling sluggish or disconnected from your body and need more energy. This is a good alternative to drinking another cup of coffee.
You’ll feel more energized after just six in-and-out cycles of the breath. Pause between cycles with a regular inhale and exhale. This will keep you from becoming lightheaded. This breath will turn routine activities into a moving meditation.
Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
This breath is great for releasing tension and balancing the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Try this breath before meditating or just before going to sleep. It helps to quiet the mind.
Focusing on your breath shifts awareness away from the mind and towards the body. Taking awareness off the mind stops the incessant mind chatter that is distracting and deepens our stress levels.
Practicing these three breathing techniques can help eliminate stress, which slows down aging, and can even prevent illness.
Strike a Pose
This posture calms the mind and helps to relieve back, neck, shoulder, and hip tension. This powerful yet gentle pose provides mental, physical, and emotional relief.
Supported Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
This posture has so many great applications and benefits. Even if you don’t have menstrual pain, sciatica, gastritis, osteoporosis, or anxiety, this pose can help reduce stress hormones and elevate your mood. The entire body is stretched in this pose. It also provides mental calmness because the head is slightly lower than the heart.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
This is the ultimate relaxation pose. Beta brain waves are decreased and the central nervous system is relaxed; the entire mind/body benefits from this pose. It’s why every yoga class ends with Savasana.
Take a little time today and try one of these three breathing techniques or poses to reduce stress and improve your overall health. Let us know if they help.
- See more at: http://www.chopra.com/ccl/3-poses-and-3-breaths-to-manage-your-stress#sthash.rEY4YjQR.dpuf
Have you ever wondered how people become who they are? Were they born that way or did they transform through some series of events as in the case of Aetna's CEO, Mark Bertolini and his near death experience?
I never knew anything about yoga until I stumbled into a yoga class about 16 years ago and then everything slowly started to shift. My path of transformation was somewhat long and winding, but it has let me to a pretty great place. Yoga has become such a huge part of who I am now that it's funny to think back at that time when it first started to transform me.
I kept my day job, I went through teacher training, I started teaching one class a week after work and then two classes a week. I started writing this blog. I suddenly owned more yoga clothes than any other type of clothes. I got an OM tattoo. I became mostly vegetarian. I was asked to speak at a media event for the cleaning tools company that I worked for on cleaning from the perspective of a yoga teacher; cleaning as an extension of well-being. And the concept for my book The Yoga of Cleaning was born. Sort of Deepak Chopra meets Martha Stewart on natural cleaning, using Ayurveda to create a custom space and Vastu to space plan alongside spiritual spring clearing, decluttering and more.
If you would like to hear my interview on April 21, 2015 with Patricia Brooks on Sacred Stores, click here and learn more. All of our stories are sacred and sharing them is important. Please feel free to connect if my story resonates with you.
by: Jennifer Carter Avgerinos
Tight hamstrings are extremely common for beginning yoga students. Even after a decade of yoga practice, some students find that hamstring flexibility is still a work in progress. Although, some gains are made, years of bad footwear choices combined with congenital anatomy can leave many yogis frustrated in poses like downward facing dog and seated forward bends. Extreme flexibility is also a concern. People with loose hamstrings sometimes have a tendency to stretch in ways that cause injury. Those darn hamstrings!
More than vanity and pride are at stake here. Tight hamstrings can lead to lower back, hip, and knee problems. If the hamstrings are too tight, the lower back flattens out, causing the loss of the normal curve in the lumbar spine. This is how low back injuries occur—not just for yogis but all types of athletes. This is just one of the many reasons why it’s so important to stay flexible. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Physiology suggests that improving flexibility can even help prevent age-related arterial stiffening.
Loose hamstrings, on the other hand, can lead to overstretching, which causes pain in the sit bones and knees, as well as damage to ligaments and tendons.
In short, making friends with your hamstrings is a good idea. A few basic modifications in your practice combined with healthy lifestyle choices can make all the difference in hamstring flexibility, overall posture, and the prevention of injuries.
Hamstring Happiness Part 1: Posture
Listen up, ladies. Although stylish and lovely, high heels throw your entire posture off balance and prevent you from using your heels properly when you walk. When wearing heels, your hips shift forward and your knees hyperextend. When this happens, the hamstrings have to stabilize your posture, effectively bypassing the gluteal muscles, which normally stabilize the pelvis over the legs. To hold the hips in place, the hamstrings have to tighten, and this constant contraction makes hamstrings tighter and tighter over time.
In comparison, barefoot cultures experience different muscle development altogether. Their foot structure is more natural versus a foot that conforms to shoes over time. While going barefoot isn’t really an option, and high heels are occasionally necessary, you should remain cognizant of your footwear choices and do what you can to alleviate the effects of high heels.
Hamstring Happiness Part 2: Proper Stretching
Locking the knees in certain standing, balancing, and forward-bending postures may be harmful or counter productive to joint and hamstring health, and it doesn’t allow for proper stretching. If your hamstrings are tight, this is a practice that you might need to unlearn. Alternatively, if your hamstrings are loose, bending your knees can help prevent overstretching and injury. Keep a slight bend in your legs for postures that involve standing or forward bends.
Yoga Poses for Hamstrings
Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose)
Start with your knee bent and then straighten it out. Engage the inner thighs and flex the foot so that the sole of the foot faces the ceiling. The leg that’s not being stretched should be straight and in contact with the floor. Avoid locking the knees and maintain a natural inward curve in the lower back. Use your quadriceps to straighten the leg properly. Be mindful that more muscles are involved than just the hamstrings, so don’t stretch past 90 degrees.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
Avoid contracting the hamstrings by locking your knees. Maintain a bend or micro bend in the knees to put the emphasis on the quads and take pressure off the knees. This helps to stretch the hamstrings and avoid excess rounding in the upper back. Avoid folding too far forward and overstretching the inner thighs. Engage your quads, and tent your fingers. Slightly lift the toes to avoid gripping. Press down into the heels. Use a yoga block for added height if hamstrings are really tight.
by: Jennifer Carter Avgerinos
If you find yourself in child’s pose and smell something funky, it might be your yoga mat. Yes, it’s true. Regular use combined with sweat, dust, dirt, body oil, and other debris can really pile up, leaving an odor on your mat that you would probably like to avoid. After all, you are standing on it with your bare feet.
Never fear. There are solutions available for the most busy or lazy among us. Depending on what style of yoga you practice, you may not need to clean your mat after every session, but you should try to clean it once a week. Regular cleaning will keep odors at bay and prolong the life of your mat.
The Natural Approach
You can easily make a DIY solution of 50/50 water and vinegar. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil for added effect and easy breathing. I prefer lemon and lavender.
Pour the ingredients into a spray bottle. Spray your yoga mat cleaner liberally over the surface of your mat. If your mat seems especially dirty, let the cleanser sit and soak in a bit before rubbing it off.
Wipe the yoga mat with a microfiber or cotton cloth. Now repeat on the other side.
Allow your mat to air dry, which should take only about 5 to 10 minutes. If it takes longer, try rubbing your mat down one more time with a dry microfiber or cotton cloth to remove the excess water and speed up the drying time.
If making your own solution isn’t appealing, try ready-made sprays or wipes. Many mat manufacturers, retailers, and consumer brands now offer several options.
Keep in mind that baby wipes may be too soapy to be effective and may dry out your mat over time.
Really pressed for time? Just throw your mat in the washing machine by itself without soap once a month and then toss it into the dryer on medium or let it air dry—not in the sun. It will hold up.
Word to the wise: Clean your yoga mat on a regular basis and your next child’s pose or down dog will be a pleasant one.